The Star-Ledger

N.J. FamilyCare Funding: An Avoidable Budget Cut

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, May 26, 2009


One-year-old Zachary Rizzi, of Franklin Park, had a bird's eye view of Gov. Jon Corzine as he spoke at a press conference a few years ago. Corzine said he wanted to expand FamilyCare health insurance to more middle class and uninsured families.

Gov. Jon Corzine has made it clear that no area of the budget can be spared as the state struggles to make up for a drop of nearly $3 billion in expected revenue over the next 15 months.

That's the reality of the hard times we live in. But some of the cuts seem to go against his budget-speech promise of "protecting the most vulnerable among us." For example, we argued earlier against a $3.8 million cut to the state agency that funds training and work placement for severely disabled workers.

Corzine is also proposing over $9 million in cuts to the state's FamilyCare program. He'd achieve that savings by rolling back a plan to let more low-income parents join the subsidized health insurance program.

Legislation Corzine signed last summer would have opened FamilyCare to parents earning up to $44,100 for a family of four, but his budget plan sets the income limit at $33,075. That would exclude an estimated 17,000 parents who would have been eligible.

Corzine's budget also would add prescription co-payments for Medicaid recipients and people in the AIDS Drug Distribution Program.

Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), who sponsored the bill that created FamilyCare, says he won't vote for the budget if these cuts are not restored. "It's very difficult to support a budget with cuts that can be restored if we find funding," Vitale said. And he says he can.

Vitale has identified three sources of funding to restore the cuts. One would be a suspension of property tax rebates for senior citizens earning between $100,000 and $150,000 a year. (Corzine has already proposed canceling rebates for everyone but seniors and the disabled.)

The senator's second proposal involves redirecting funds from the state's charity care reimbursements to hospitals. He argues that getting more people into FamilyCare will mean fewer uninsured patients at hospital emergency rooms.

His third idea would run state funding for federally qualified health centers through the Medicaid program so Washington would match it dollar-for-dollar, freeing up state money for FamilyCare.

Of the three, eliminating the rebates for upper-income seniors may be the easiest to do — and undo, when the economy rebounds. And it even has the backing of the senior citizen lobbying group AARP.

"It's triage time," said Doug Johnston, advocacy director for AARP in New Jersey. "We have to question where seniors bringing in $100,000 or more should be receiving a property tax rebate, yet cut people out of desperately needed health care."

Asked about Vitale's ideas, a Corzine spokesman simply said "the governor welcomes any and all reasonable ideas and solutions."

We hope common sense prevails, and that Vitale's proposals are seriously considered.

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